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Pressure on Thai PM Rises as Son is Charged with Violating Stock Laws


Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is facing rising political pressure following charges by Thai regulators that his son violated stock disclosure laws in a controversial corporate sale. The announcement comes three days before a mass anti-government rally in Bangkok.

The head of Thailand's Security and Exchange Commission, Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubula, said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's son Phantongtae, had violated stock disclosure laws. This occurred prior to the sale last month of nearly two billion dollars worth of shares in the telecommunications company founded by Mr. Thaksin. He says the violations are not serious enough to press criminal charges, but they will incur a fine.

The announcement comes amid growing political pressure for the prime minister to resign. The sale of the country's largest telecommunications conglomerate to a foreign firm angered many Thais, because it legally avoided any taxes and transferred strategic assets into foreign hands.

A former prime minister who led a military coup (in 1991) but was forced to resign after deadly riots 14 years ago, retired-General Suchinda Kraprayoon, Wednesday joined a growing group of influential citizens advising Mr. Thaksin to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

The leader of the protests that overthrew Suchinda, former military officer Chamlong Srimuang, last week also called for the prime minister to resign, saying he has lost the moral legitimacy to govern.

Chamlong said he and his followers would join the anti-Thaksin rally on Sunday. A series of such rallies was launched several months ago by media-mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, who accuses the Thaksin government of corruption and abuse of power.

More than 10,000 protesters demonstrated two weeks ago in Bangkok, calling for the prime minister to get out.

A professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsuthirak, says the political situation has evolved rapidly in recent weeks and the anti-Thaksin coalition has reached a critical mass.

"The coalition now is very broad-based and diverse, dynamic, large-scale, spontaneous," he said. "And they are not going to go away. Thaksin also is not going to go away. So we have a head-on collision coming."

Mr. Thaksin, who remains popular among rural people and the poor, is fighting back. His supporters are organizing mass rallies (in two weeks). He has scheduled a debate in parliament on corruption and governance, and has called for discussions on revising the constitution.

But rifts appear to be emerging within Mr. Thaksin's party, which won three-fourths of the seats in parliamentary elections one year ago. Two ministers have resigned and several parliament members have called for the prime minister to step down in order to avoid a crisis.

Professor Thitinan says the anti-Thaksin alliance also faces tests because it is a coalition of disparate groups with different goals. "This is a challenge for the coalition. Somehow they have to maintain this momentum," he said. "They have to maintain the size and maintain the agenda without a leadership. Thaksin is planning to outmaneuver them, outlast them."

Experts say that as a result, Thai politics have entered a period of uncertainty characterized by growing tensions and a heightened risk of violent confrontations, which both sides say they want to avoid.